Late goals from Rafa Márquez, Andrés Guardado, and Javier Hernández have shattered Croatia’s World Cup dreams and sent Mexico into a sixth straight knockout round. With goals in the 72nd and 75th minutes, Márquez and Guardado blew open a previously scoreless match, while late insurance from ‘Chicharito’ Hernández helped clinch second place in Group A with a 3-1 win in Recife.
An hour of even play slowly started to sway Mexico’s way with chances in the 64th and 69th minutes. Eighteen minutes from time, Márquez finally put his team on the scoreboard, heading home a Héctor Herrera corner to make it 1-0. Three minutes later, Guardado’s blast from the left of the Croatian area doubled the lead, while Hernández finished a 82nd minute corner to provide further insurance. After Ivan Persic found 87th minute consolation, Mexico had their two-goal win.
Hoping to reach the quarterfinals for the first time in 28 years, Mexico moves on to the final 16, facing the Netherlands on Sunday in Fortaleza. Croatia, with one win in three matches, end their 2014 World Cup third in Group A.
Even play over the first 45 minutes saw Mexico nearly take the lead twice in the first 20 minutes. Off a long-range shot in the 16th minute, Herrera nailed the upper-left hand corner of Stipe Pletikosa’s goal, while a ball played behind Croatia’s defense three minutes later left Oribe Peralta sprawled in the penalty area after the Mexican forward slipped while turning onto a close-range shot.
Come the hour mark, Mexico began to upset the game’s balance. In the 64th minute, a Guardado shot from the left of the area drew handball appeals as it went off Darijo Srna’s arms and out for a corner. Five minutes later, Pletikosa kicked out at a Herrera cross to prevent a ball from bouncing across his six-yard box. Come the 70th minute, Mexico had firmly established itself on the front foot.
In the 72nd minute, that advantage finally paid off. Off a Herrera corner from the left, Márquez was found at the edge of the six-yard box. Heading down and into goal, the veteran defender celebrated his fourth finals as captain with a breakthrough score, giving Mexico a 1-0 lead.
Three minutes later, Croatia’s back was broken. Shooting from nearly the spot where Srna denied him 11 minutes before, Guardardo finished high into the left of Pletikosa’s net, providing what proved the game-winning goal.
In the 82nd minute, Hernández snuck in at the far post to put home a corner flicked on by Márquez – a goal that was pulled back minutes later by Perisic’s finish into Guillermo Ochoa’s lower-right hand corner. When Ante Rebic was red carded in the 89th minute, Croatia’s hopes of a comeback were done. Mexico would advance with their two-goal victory.
It was the most impressive performance yet from a Mexican side that continues to overshadow its qualifying mishaps. When the team take sthe field on Sunday in Fortaleza, they’ll do so having only conceded one meaningless goal through three group stage matches.
Whether that defense will be able to hold off the Dutch remains to be seen, but after strong performances against Brazil and Croatia, there’s reason to believe Mexico can do damage in the knockout round.
Croatia: Pletikosa; Srna, Corluka, Lovren, Vrsaljko (Kovacic 58′); Modric, Pranjic (Jelavic 74′); Perisic, Rakitic, Olic (Rebic 69′), Mandzukic
Goals: Perisic 87′
Mexico: Ochoa; Aguilar, Rodríguez, Marquez, Moreno, Layún; Vazquez, Herrera, Guardado (Fabián 84′); Dos Santos (Hernández 62′), Peralta (Peña 79′)
Goals: Márquez 72′, Guardado 75′, Hernández 82′